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Ep 51 – Science ed and talking about death in a cemetery park

Interview with Dimuthu about the education programme at the Soanes Centre in Tower Hamlets Cemetery park. Dim walks us through a few of the sessions he runs, including sessions on soil formation and rocks which take advantage of one of the special features of the cemetery park, the historical grave stones. He also talks a bit about navigating the topics of death and decay which inevitably come up teaching in such a unique setting.

This interview was recorded on location with a door open for ventilation, and fortunately/unfortunately includes a lot of background noise. (Bonus points of each bird species you can identify in the background?)

Rocks and minerals

  • Match rock samples with words describing uses
  • Test the samples for hardness, porousness, reactivity to acid
  • Based on the properties of the rocks students think about how they’d fare against weathering
  • Venture out into the cemetery and look at different grave markers of the same age and compare the condition they’re in now
  • Similar format could be followed at other historical sites which might have buildings or monuments made from different types of rock


  • Address inevitable questions about the graves and what happened to the bodies of the people buried on the site
  • Living things decompose and become part of the surrounding soil
  • Fallen leaves provide a nice example of the process of decomposition
  • Look a soil and leaflitter invertebrates and discuss how they feed on plant and animal matter, breaking it down


  • Processing a sample of clay takes time but allows students to experience real palaeontology
  • Big payoff once the processed sample goes under the microscope
  • Similar activity can be done using other samples
    • Beach sand: shells, bone fragments, mineral grains, coral
    • Soil: mineral fragments, shells of soil dwelling snails or other invertebrates, plant fragments
    • Pond water: algae, microorganisms, invertebrates, plant fragments

Microfossils lesson plan from GNS science

Find out more!

Events at Tower Hamlets Cemetery park

Education programmes at the Soanes Centre

Ep 50 – Balancing needs of nature and people in a cemetery park

Interview with Kenneth Greenway about balancing the needs of people and nature in a historic cemetery park.

Managing ‘anti-social behaviour’

  • Created open feeling by thinning trees and removing ivy from some trees
  • Allowed 24 hour access to the site via pedestrian gates (also stopped damage to fencing from forced entry)
  • Staff informally greet and speak with all visitors to the site so their presence is felt
  • Relationships built up with regular visitors who report anti-social behaviour or illicit commercial foragers
  • Anti-social behaviours are dealt with initially by respectful reminders that it is a public space
  • Frequent interruption b friendly chats seems to prevent anti-social behaviour because people know they will be interrupted

Managing picking of plants and flowers

  • Borough has bylaws against picking any plants from council property
  • Tower Hamlets offers the least green space per capita of any similar area in Europe, staff respond to this situation by allowing reasonable use of the site by the community
  • Foraging for personal use is generally allowed
  • Lockdown led to a huge increase in foraging on the site and staff now request that people let them know first.
  • Children won’t be yelled at for picking a flower here or there, but anyone picking bunches of flowers will be spoken to about it being a communal space so the flowers should be left for the community to enjoy.


  • Reconnects people into the seasons so they can plan ahead
  • Personal use value of the site for foraging is a way for people to develop appreciation for the site
  • Hopefully people eventually develop a desire to learn more about plants outside of foraging
  • Foraging walks
    • Much more take-up for foraging than general botany walks
    • Emphasise responsible foraging behaviour so that it is sustainable
    • Emphasise that foraging requires dedication to learn about the plants and how to ID them


  • Using the site at night seems to be a draw
  • People book online to limit numbers
  • People seem to enjoy the evening regardless of seeing any bats

  • Walk logistics
    • Begin by learning about bat ecology, break down preconceptions and myths
    • Get to see a dead bat and handle bat poo
    • Learn how to use bat detectors before setting out
    • Slowly move around the site

Ep 49 – A cross-curricular unit on parts and needs of plants

Ideas for a cross curricular unit on the parts and needs of plants.


  • Curriculum
    • What a plant needs to live
    • Parts of a plant

  • Set up experiments to see how plants react to more or less: water, light, soil types
    • Students record their set-up, anything they add (watering)
    • Record observations 2-3 times/week
    • Describe how the pants react and grow
  • Weekly snapshots
    • Students start the experiment with several identical set-ups
    • Every week, gently rinse away soil from one of the experimental setups
    • Press the plant or take a photo for comparison at the end
    • Compare pressed plants to see if different parts are affected by the experiments
  • Not everyone in a class needs to do everything
    • Groups are responsible for investigating one factor
    • Students circulate to different stations and make notes on other experiments
    • Mini science fair 
      • Students circulate and a representative shares their observations. Other students ask questions or make suggestions about the experiment.
      • Groups share their experience and expertise. They may recognize a growth habit from their own experiments and help others make sure their experiments aren’t being affected by other factors.

Outdoor ideas

Look for examples of the same type of plant growing in different micro habitats. Students can make notes of any difference in growth habit. Some plants will grow differently in bright/low light, or if they are cut/trampled/grazed.

Make notes, take photos, or draw sketches of different microhabitats to capture what the conditions are like. Take advantage of being able to examine rich details which are really only possible to explore in outdoor spaces.


  • Curriculum
    • Create sketchbooks to record observations
    • Use them to review and revisit ideas
  • Activity ideas
    • Sketch their experimental seedling once per week
    • Take a photo of their plant and edit the photo so it accurately captures the light levels.
    • Take a photo of the experimental plant each day and create a video
    • Look at different plant/botany photography styles on platforms like Instagram and compare the effect of different styles/techniques.
    • Create a plant sculpture using crepe or crumpled tissue paper and pipe cleaners. Manipulate the tissue paper leaves so they mimic the leaves of their plant

Writing an artist’s statement about their work blends science and art. Student’s need to use correct terms for parts of plants to describe their work. Need to be thoughtful about how their technique captured what was happening to their plant. But be clear in what is being assessed. If the artist statement is being assessed for art, make sure the criteria are focused on that.

Outdoor ideas

Make sure you know: how much time and space will be available, what habitats are around to explore, is it a wilder or more managed site.

  • Constraints of being on a field trip can be an opportunity to explore different techniques.
    • Bring a limited range of colour pencils. Less to carry, and forces students to experiment with colour mixing to match the colours they encounter.
  • Use digital photography to quickly capture scenes if time is limited.
    • Bringing paper or clipboards to place behind subjects can help isolate them from the background.
  • Look for opportunities to blended art and science.
    • Capture mood using repetition by picking a plant and exploring what would be lonely, comfortable, or crowded for it. Would these situations look the same for a tree as it would for grass? How does this link up to the parts of a plant and the amount of room a plant needs to grow?


  • Curriculum
    • Changes from the stone to iron age
    • Connections and trends over time
  • Lesson ideas
    • How people made use of plants. What plants did they use.
    • What kinds of tools would people have used
    • Compare stone age and iron age peoples’ impact on their environment
    • What would people need to do to the landscape in order to grow crops?

History unit provides background information to inform the big project. Writing a picture book to add to the class or school library.

English/Language arts

  • Curriculum
    • Plan by reading writing in similar style to what is planned in order to learn from structure
    • In writing narratives develop setting, characters and plot

End goal of a unit is to write a story from a plant’s perspective about what happened when people arrive.

  • Lesson ideas
    • Start with reading books written in a similar style to learn from the format.
      • Books from a plant’s perspective
        • The little Crooked Christmas tree – Michael Cutting
        • The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein 
        • The Dandelion Seed – Joseph Anthony 
        • In a nutshell – Joseph Anthony
        • Sequoia – Tony Johnston
      • Books about plants
        • The Great Kapok tree – Lynn Cherry
        • The Lorax – Dr. Seuss
        • The Last Tree – Mark Wilson
        • The Sequoia Lives On – Joanna Cooke
  • Break down the project into parts
    1. Choose an important or interesting plant from science or history
    2. Outline the plot using developments learned about in history
    3. Develop character and fractions to events using observations from science
    4. Share the outline with other students to give feedback. Peer review history and science content.
    5. Start writing out the story
    6. Block text into pages and sketch illustration ideas
    7. Use diagrams from science or sketchbook from art as basis for illustrations
    8. Put text and illustrations together into final piece

Set deadlines for milestones. Students have class time to work, but if they don’t feel like they are going to make the deadline they may need to work together with the teacher to come up with a strategy.

  • Do they need to take the work home because they haven’t been working effectively in class?
  • Talk through writer’s block with a friend, parent, or the teacher?
  • Are they being a little bit too ambitious?
  • Is there are another way they could be working that might speed things up?
  • Reduce the number of pages by condensing their text.
  • Do they need it to be in a different format with fewer illustrations? Story blog post, magazine article etc.

Consider assessing milestones instead of the final product, or allow students to decide. This approach could allow this project to gather evidence of student learning and achievement in different subject areas.

  • Outline of plot
  • Outline of character and reactions to events in the plot
  • Sketches of ideas for illustrations
  • Evidence of giving constructive feedback to another student
  • Text of the final book

Final product might not be assessed at all if you have collected sufficient evidence of learning from the earlier stages. They’ve put so much hard work into the final product, rather than putting a red circle around a typo or grading the effort out of 100, final product is just celebrated.

Further reading

Smithsoniam Magazine article about the possibility of tree communicating with one another, and why Peter Wohlleben anthropomorphizes trees and uses narrative style in his science books.

Edutopia article on getting started with project based learning.

Making time for project based learning

Ep 48 – Journal Club – Climate in curriculum; benefits of hope enhancing programmes

Discussion of two pieces of research and what they mean for environmental educators. Potential problems with embedding climate and sustainability in the curriculum. How environmental-hope-enhancing programs could resolve some of these issues.

State of Climate Education in the UK

Top line results

  • Do you feel you’ve received adequate training as a teacher, during qualification or since, to educate students on climate change, its implications for the environment and societies around the world, and how these implications can be addressed?
    • 70% of teachers responded that they had not received training on any aspect of climate change.

  • When asked how climate change is taught in their school
    • 53% responded that Climate change is often mentioned, taught in the curriculum and has also been the topic of other classes or assemblies.
    • 40% of respondents reported that climate change was rarely or never mentioned.
  • 90% felt that climate change was of concern and more should be done
  • 90% felt climate change education should be compulsory
  • Main barriers to teaching about climate change
    • overstretched teaching the current curriculum: ~40%
    • lack of confidence in knowledge of the topic: ~20%
    • too divisive/political: 9%

Issues raised

Too political

We need think about the topic into the situation and the solutions. The situation is a physical reality. Climate systems and the impact of greenhouse gases are now very well understood. Teachers should be able to teach about this situation and how its impacts are felt in various subjects. The ecological impacts are most commonly thought of, but these have human impacts which can be studied in geography or social studies. Climate has also shaped history.

Solutions to climate change are political. We have many tools at our disposal to have an impact on the situation: eating less meat, reducing flights, protection of peat bogs, renewable energy. However each of these have different costs to different people. Weighing the costs and the benefits of these is not an objective process, it is a political one. However teachers can still allow students to explore these solutions and their costs/benefits. Writing assignments or art projects can allow students to express themselves. Teacher can assess the technical aspects of students’ work without needing to express an opinion on a student’s view that everyone should be vegan, or that all flights should be cancelled.

Too much curriculum content already

What is probably needed to resolve this perennial problem is a hard look at how the education system works in the UK, and there needs to be a push to give teachers the space and tools to teach kids how to teach themselves. Check out these other podcasts which explore ways to rethink teaching in much more depth.

Embedding in the curriculum may not be enough and even counterproductive

  • Too much focus big problems could lead students to suffer from empathy burnout/compassion fatigue, where students essentially tire out their ability to worry about others. Allowing teachers to be flexible in how they approach climate and other environmental issues means they would be able to adjust to the needs and interests of their class. It also allows them to give students a break, so they have time to process how they feel.
  • Adding more content to the curriculum could cause teachers to fall back on easier, but less effective teaching methods like lecturing or assigning reading. These allow teachers to cover more content quickly, but the information is often quickly forgotten.

Environmental hope enhancing programmes

Dorit Kerret, Hod Orkibi, Shira Bukchin & Tammie Ronen (2020) Two for one: achieving both pro-environmental behavior and subjective well-being by implementing environmental-hope-enhancing programs in schools, The Journal of Environmental Education, 51:6, 434-448, DOI: 10.1080/00958964.2020.1765131

This study consisted of surveys of students in schools in Israel. Some of the students went to normal schools, while others went to schools with green certification, where the environment is supposed to be embedded in all curriculum areas. The researchers found that school-type was not strongly associated with pro-environmental behaviour. In other words, going to a green school did not seem to have much impact on whether students took action on environmental issues. What did have an impact was taking part in hope-enhancing activities or programmes. Students who participated in this type of programme were more likely to self-report that they regularly took action to do things like reduce waste, or participate in environmental activism. They were also more likely to report feeling positive, and have higher school satisfaction. This result held regardless of whether the school had green accreditation or not.

What makes a hope enhancing programme?

Social trust – Trusting that others are also doing their part. This breaks down the feeling that there is no point doing anything because an individual action would have no impact.

  • Programmes often involved:
    • collaboration with partners both inside and outside the school to achieve a goal.
    • Teaching about actions which were already being taken by others
    • Building a sense of community

Pathway thinking – Being able to see a path or plan a route through a problem.

  • Programmes often involved:
    • Setting goals
    • Prioritizing
    • Tracking progress
    • Problem solving

Agency thinking – Knowing what you want to do and believing that your goal is achievable.  

Thinking about goal setting – Approach versus Avoidance goals

An approach goal is one which you work towards achieving, an avoidance goal focuses on preventing something from happening. As an example, an approach goal might be to find ways of protecting or supporting biodiversity. An avoidance goal might focus on how many species have become endangered and preventing their extinction. The two are similar, but the researchers found that more hopeful students tended to use ‘approach’ goals. Supporting students in developing ‘approach goals’ may help them stay positive in their outlook.

Source: Approach Versus Avoidance Goals: Differences in Self-Evaluation and Well-Being


Carefully consider how environmental issues are incorporated into sessions.

If an issue is only touched on at the end of a session students could leave feeling overwhelmed and helpless. It could also trivialize the issue because it appears not to be important enough to devote session time towards discussing. It may be more effective to focus on a concept or the experience of the visit. You could then provide teachers with support and resources to build on the experience and tackle a bigger issue back in class. This approach could allow you to focus on helping students develop a connection or appreciation for nature. This positive experience can provide relevance and motivation for students when they approach an issue.

Frame environmental problems in terms of developing approach goals rather than avoidance goals.

For example: Instead of ‘how can we stop deforestation’, which focuses on what is being lost. You might reframe this as ‘how can we help forests to grow or thrive’. The latter includes tackling deforestation, but also includes looking for ways to support what is good. This could help prevent kids from being overwhelmed with negativity and eco-anxiety without losing sight of the problem.

Teaching students about what is being done on the site to tackle environmental issues.

This supports social trust. Learning about the actions taken by a local organization, or a local green space could be a really powerful way to counteract feelings of helplessness. The fact that these actions are being taken by a local organization can also bring home the message that global issues also affect us, and that there are things which can be done to help.

Encourage teachers to visit outdoor sites in their own time.

Teachers need to have positive connections with nature and are confident using outdoor spaces, and have solid background knowledge of the topic. Environmental organizations need to be providing hope-enhancing experiences for teachers as well as students. Encouraging teachers to visit when you are running hands-on activities over holidays. Allow teachers to observe and help with school sessions. These are opportunities for teachers to take ideas and first hand experience back to their classrooms.

Ep 47- Art Workshops and meaningful work kids want to take home

Interview with Educator and Artist Charlotte about her experiences facilitating social painting events with PopUp Painting, and helping people take pride in their work. Then ideas for how environmental educators can adjust what we have kids do so that the experiences are more meaningful, and kids actually want to take home the paper we give them.

PopUp Painting:

Helping people take pride in their work

  • Instead of “what is it?” ask “Could you tell me about your work?” 
    • A piece of artwork doesn’t have to be anything
    • They decide what is important about it
    • Encourages thinking about their own work and process
  • Ask specific questions/Give specific feedback
    • “How did you do this?”
    • “I like how you used this technique”
    • Demonstrates that you are paying attention to what they’ve done
  • Ask how they feel about their work
    • “Are you proud of your artwork?”
    • Help people build emotional competence
    • Gentle encouragement to identify and articulate what they really like about their piece, and also what they would like to do better

Helping people give themselves constructive criticism

  • Pitfalls of “It’s great!”, “Its your own style!” etc.
    • These can take the bite out of making a ‘mistake’, but can come across as patronizing/disingenuous
    • It’s okay to not be happy with your work. None of us like to get things wrong, but it is important to work on being able to give yourself honest criticism. Challenge is to keep dissatisfaction with a product from becoming “I’m not an art person” or “This subject isn’t for me” etc.
  • Growth mindset and Action planning
    • There is power in: I’m not good at this yet. I made a mistake this time.
    • Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan
      • Wish this bit was better
      • This is what I mean by better
      • This is what is holding me back
      • This is how I’m going to reach the outcome
  • Use humour
    • Can help people see that a mistake is not so serious
    • Can help twist the person’s perspective on a mistake into something positive

Designing work that kids care about

  • Make it relevant
    • Explain why something is important
      • Helps people buy into why they should want to take part
    • Does it connect with participant’s experiences, interests, or values?
    • Allow choice
      • Participants take more ownership of the work
      • Participants can base their work on their experiences
      • Example:
      • Write down what a fish needs to survive.
        • If they don’t like fish or never interact with live fish. They may have no reason to care about the topic. It’s not relevant to their experience.
      • Choose an animal you’d want to keep for a while to observe. What would you need to provide so it can survive?
        • They get to choose an animal they are interested in/is relevant to their experience
        • Scenario explains why the information is important
  • Make it meaningful 
    • Allow them to invest time and experience the process. The product becomes a reminder of the process.
    • Will the work have some impact or use?
    • Example
      • Listing what an animal needs
        • Loses its meaning after the session. It becomes just a list of words.
      • Draw a plan of the habitat you’re going to keep the creature in
        • Gives kids an outlet to enjoy thinking about what an animal needs.
        • Includes more of the context in the product, so it retains more meaning after the session.
        • If they are very invested, they might actually use the plan to create a habitat in their garden or in a small container.
  • Give the work value
    • Putting work on display lets them know you value the work.
    • Ask how they would like to display their work.
    • Make it part of a bigger project
    • Example
      • Keep a tally of the animals you caught. We will talk about what you found.
      • After you’ve talked about their results, if nothing else is going to be done with the results, they’ve lost their value.
      • The tally of animals could become data for a later graphing exercise. The graph can be part of a poster or blog post.
      • Building more connections with a piece of work helps make it more meaningful and memorable.

Leaf hunting with line drawings

Three activities which can be used modularly, or together to create a lesson on identifying common plants and practicing use of descriptive language. This lends itself best to younger ages (UK KS1, age 6-7). With some work this can also be modified to be an activity focussing on classification for older groups.

Sorting leaves

Sort pictures/pressed/laminated leaves into groups. Then pick one group of leaves and describe what they have in common/why they were put in the same group. Focus on introducing terminology for parts of a leaf and having groups make detailed descriptions.

Leaf hunt

Scout out your leaf hunting area to see what plants are about then build up a scavenger hunt sheet. Go out hunting! 

If you are allowing the kids to pick the leaves, reinforce that they should carefully match as many features as possible so they only pick the leaves they need. Most lawn ‘weeds’ are very resilient to picking. Many evolved in grasslands where grazing and mowing are constant threats.

Another option is taking photographs of matching leaves. A small piece of paper or card placed behind leaves provides a plain background which can help with seeing leaf details later.

Sample leaf hunt sheets:

20 questions 

One student closes their eyes while the rest of the class chooses a leaf. The student opens their eyes and asks the class questions to narrow down the options and guess the leaf. This is a good way to reinforce terminology and practice using descriptive language.

Take it further

Compare, contrast, and theorize 

Some plants can have leaves with slightly different shapes. Kids can compare the leaves they found and come up with theories about any differences they spot. Remembering where they found the leaves can be useful information. This is a good exercise to get kids thinking about how a plant’s environment affects the way it grows. It is also an opportunity to recognize the limitations of what they’ve learned; plant ID can require looking at flowers and other features.

Common reasons for differences

  • They come from closely related species (ie. dandelions and their relatives, geraniums and cranesbills)
  • Lower leaves are sometimes different from ones growing higher up
  • Shaded leaves can be different from those growing in the sun, often larger.
  • Young plants/leaves can be different from mature leaves/plants

Classification Modification

Use all the leaf images, or collect as many different leaves as you can find. Students start making their own branching key sorting the leaves into groups, recording the first characteristic they used. They then take the leaves in one group and sort them again, recording the characteristics as they go.

Groups could make a diagrams of their key and compare the approaches taken. Were there strategies which led to identifications in the fewer steps than others? 

Students could also compare their keys with those in wildflower ID guides. What are the similarities and differences? Are there strengths or weaknesses in the way the guides arrange their keys?

Leaf illustrations

Feel free to download and use any of these illustrations of common lawn wildflowers.

Ep 46 – South London Botanical Institute

Interview with Sarah Webley, Education and Outreach Coordinator at the South London Botanical Institute. We discuss how they structure their school sessions, and get an overview of the huge variety of programmes they offer.

South London Botanical Institute Website

School sessions

  • Classes divided into 3 groups doing different activities in a round-robin/carousel.
  • Garden and art activities led by experienced volunteers who can share their knowledge of the garden and experience as artists.
  • Groups get about 30 minutes for each activity.
  • Offers lots of variety so everyone has something to really enjoy.

Garden activities

  • Trails around garden with challenges or questions to be completed in the garden
  • Hunts for leaves/flowers matching a description

Art/Drawing activity in the library

  • Look closely at plant materials and draw them
  • Link plant material to pictures of animals and draw a food chain
  • Make a plant press
  • Create a herbarium sheet

Microscope/science activity

  • Students can have a microscope each to use due to smaller group size.
  • Need to be patient with themselves if they can’t see the object right away.
  • Seed features and dispersal methods
  • Flowers and draw/identify parts of flowers

Family event – Apple day

  • Tasting and comparing apple varieties 
  • Apple prints with cut apples and paint
  • Apple monsters using natural materials

Guided walks and ethnobotany

  • Themes include: introduction to plant ID, autumn fungi, foraging, street weeds
  • Guide points out often overlooked diversity in the local area
  • Stories and folk-knowledge add particularly engaging element for many
  • Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey is an excellent UK resource

Ep 45 – Film Club – Arrival

When gigantic spaceships touchdown in 12 locations around the world. Linguist Louise Banks is approached to lead a team attempting to find a way to communicate with  extraterrestrial visitors. Pressure mounts as nations teeter on the verge of a global arms crisis which could be set off by a simple misunderstanding.

You may want to watch the film before listening and consider:

  • How does Louise’s approach to communication differ from the other characters?
  • Are there lessons which can be applied to environmental and science communication?
  • What preconceptions do other characters bring to the situation? 
  • Are the preconceptions helpful or a hindrance?

Guest on this episode: Atul Kumar, fundraising consultant, author, and podcaster

Changing perspective and reevaluating priorities

In the film

  • Shifting perspective and changing ways of thinking are major themes in the film
    • Louise must convince the military to accept a more nuanced view of what they want in order to reduce chances of miscommunication with the aliens.
    • We come to understand that the memories we are shown in the film is Louise gaining access to memories of her whole life, allowing her to see the consequences of her choices. This gives extra depth and poignancy to her decisions to begin a relationship with Ian and have a child.
  • In tackling environmental challenges
    • Nationalist concerns appear less significant when taking a global perspective. Greenhouse gas emissions do not respect national boundaries. Impacts of climate change will be felt globally. Etc.
    • Historical and future emissions are as important and current emissions.
    • Short term benefits might not be worth it when weighed against long term costs.
    • Evaluation of costs tend to focus on the local and short term.They ignore externalities (costs which are not born by the producer of a product). For example, environmental damage from resource extraction and the impact that has on local communities. Unless companies are forced to repair the damage or contribute to the community, often the cost of this damage is ignored.
    • Being able to shift perspective allows us to better take into account externalities and re-evaluate what is important

More about externalities:

IMF – Externalities: Prices do not reflect all costs – Article

Personal perspectives, biases, and ideology

  • Perspective relates to what we can see. What information is available/hidden.
  • Ideology encompasses ideas about: value/importance, morality, responsibility; and that a version of these ideas are natural or universal truth. Like a lens which colours what we see.
  • Bias describes the result of how ideology interacts with our perspective. Our blind-spots; how we interpret things; the directions we lean; what we are likely to believe or agree with

Starting point for further reading

Malka A, Krosnick JA, Langer G. The association of knowledge with concern about global warming: trusted information sources shape public thinking. Risk Analysis. 2009 May;29(5):633-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2009.01220.x. Epub 2009 Mar 12.

In the film

  • Louise has a very different perspective from Ian because she knows what will happen if she has a child. 
  • Her perspective may give her a bias towards choosing not to change her decision to have a relationship with Ian and to have a child because she has experienced the positives of the loving relationship with Ian and their daughter. 
  • Ian doesn’t have a clear bias one way or another when asked whether he would change things if he could see his whole life, start to finish. He has no relevant experience to inform him.
  • Louise places high value on the experiences with her daughter, and that this outweighs consequences of her daughter dying young. Ian’s values and sense of morality, lead him to a different conclusion. Differences in their ideology (values etc.) lead them to different conclusions about the ‘rightness’ of their choices.

In communication about the environment

  • Confirmation bias – people are more likely to believe information which fits in with what they already ‘know’.
  • Trust in science/scientists can have an effect on how knowledge is correlated with concern or willingness to take action.
  • The reality of climate change, its causes and consequences, is as removed from individual ideologies as we can get. This is the goal of scientific processes.
  • There is an understanding of what we need to achieve: reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. What should be done to reach that goal is less clear because it is tightly linked to ideology; what we place value on, how we think about morality and responsibility etc. 
  • Being aware of our own bias and attempting to take different perspectives can help us recognize how ideology affects how we interpret physical reality and rebalance how we weigh information. It tends to encourage us to look beyond ourselves and our immediate surroundings, and instead consider the global community and long term consequences.

More detailed explanations of ideology

How we communicate affects how the message is received

  • Louise points out that using a game as a medium for communication can frame messages in terms of opposition and conflict.
  • How we communicate about climate change can affect how those messages are received.
  • Too much focus on the scale of the problem can be overwhelming, or lead to a kind of ‘compassion fatigue‘.
  • Learning more about a problem may not help with taking action if the learning doesn’t include solutions.

Bjarne Bruun Jensen (2002): Knowledge, Action and Pro- environmental Behaviour, Environmental Education Research, 8:3, 325-334

Ep 44 – Pond dipping and night-time nature at London Wetland Centre

Interview with Paul, Learning manager at the London Wetland Centre (LWC). A site maintained by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT). We discuss the ever popular pond dipping sessions, how they’re structured and the resources provided to support students. Paul also shares his thoughts on the wonders of exploring nature at night.

Find out more about the London Wetland Centre:

More about the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust:

Pond dipping

Public sessions

  • Drop-in sessions (45 minutes)
  • Aquarium nets, white trays, simple ID guides, plastic containers
  • Staff and volunteers on hand to help with tips, ID, other questions
  • Participant dwell time tends to be 10-15 minutes
  • Have trialled 30 minute booked sessions, this tends to lengthen individual dwell time to 20-25 minutes.

School sessions

  • Begins by recalling what students already know about habitats
  • Head to pond for quick health and safety briefing, hand out equipment
  • Students select an animal to observe in more detail
  • Head back to work area with animal
  • Set task of investigating: How animal survives in the habitat, classification of the animal, adaptations
  • Part way through observation question or prompt sheets can be given out for support
  • Observations and ideas are recorded on small whiteboards
  • Groups share their observations as the class views the animal projection on a screen

Supporting resources

London Wetland Centre uses bespoke resources to support most students. This decision allowed the resources to reflect the most commonly encountered creatures, removing creatures which would not be found on the site because of habitat type or geographic range. Information can be tailored to support objectives of particular sessions. Off-the-shelf resources are often too general, with distracting or irrelevant details.

ID Keys

Branching keyFreshwater name trail from the Field Studies Council is designed for older groups. Proper use depends on details which can be difficult to observe and language which can be tricky for younger groups. Most groups use it as a gallery of images, scanning the chart for matching image rather than working through the key. This is used at the centre for groups age 11+

Sorted gallery – The is the bespoke guide currently used at LWC. It was developed based on observations of how children talked about and groups the animals they were encountering. Pond creatures are grouped into a few categories, each described by a simple sentence. The guide opens to a page with a gallery of images which student match against.

Simplified taxonomic – Used at the centre for terrestrial invertebrates. The guide was developed based on the model of the sorted gallery, but the sorting features supports teaching about classification. Students begin by looking at the number of legs. This opens to a page with a gallery of images and separates the invertebrates into insects, arachnids etc. Significant characteristics for further classification are called out with simple sentences.

Both the sorted gallery and simplified taxonomic key take advantage of the tendency for children to scan the images to find a match. Placing similar creatures together of a page limits the number of images (which speeds the process), and encourages close observation of details in order for students to arrive at a conclusion. When presented with a single page chart of all common creatures, finding a match can be slow, and students can easily end up at an incorrect conclusion because they have stopped looking at the first roughly similar image.

Image stylePros/Cons
Backgrounds can be distracting/make some features harder to distinguish.
High level of detail and colour can make it easier to match.
Too much attention to details specific to the pictured individual can make it harder for kids to identify related species.  

 Simple illustration
Gives sense of colour.
Should include key ID features.
Limited details means it is easier to interpret.

 Detailed line drawing
Too much detail can make it difficult to interpret by those with less experience 

Supporting information

Provided to support students with less prior knowledge. Groups/adult helpers can also be provided with question sheets to help groups maintain focus on the task, and word banks to prompt students to use descriptive scientific language. These are hit or miss, with some groups using them as worksheets/answer sheets. Currently iteration is to give out these resources after groups have had time to record their own ideas to support closer observation. Some groups may not need this support at all.

Information givenPros/Cons
– Eats other animals
– Breathes through gills on its sides
– Can swim by wiggling

Focuses on needs of living things
Describes behaviour which is often not observable in session
Gives away answers
Observing and thinking can become copying

– Has big jaws
– Has gills on its sides
– Has big eyes  

Focuses on body parts/adaptations
Draws attention to features which are key to the lesson
Still need to draw connection with adaptation

– Pounces on other animals
– Sits in burrow
– Can swim by wiggling
Focus on behaviours
Highlights behaviour which might not be observable in session

Night Safaris

  • Welcome and team building games
  • Den building
  • Snack and stories until dusk
  • Bat and nocturnal nature walk
  • Astronomy (weather and time permitting)
  • Recap of the evening around the campfire with marshmallows

Ep 43 – Part 2 – Peppered moths: Example of evolution and science at work

Part 2: Primer on a resource on the peppered moth and evolution, using digitized specimens from the collections of the Natural History Museum.

The story of the peppered moth is a great illustration of evolution by natural selection. And the study of the phenomenon now called industrial melanism is also a great example of how science operates.

Peppered moth PowerPoint – free to download!


The peppered moth (Biston betularia) is a species with huge variation. They can be white and speckled (which is the typica colour form) to almost entirely black (the carbonaria form). In the 19th century, collectors in Britain noticed that the darker form was becoming more common.  

At this time coal had been fuelling the industrial revolution. This put out huge amounts of air pollution, including lots of sulphur compounds. When these mixed with water vapour in the atmosphere it formed sulfuric acid, which fell as acid rain. This is not great for plants, particularly lichen, some species are very sensitive to this. The death of these light-coloured lichens and soot from the coal, led to darker tree trunks and branches in forests around big industrial cities such as Birmingham and Manchester. 

Naturalists guessed that darker carbonaria moths were better camouflaged against the darkened trees, and less likely to be eaten by birds. Burning coal was changing the environment and putting selective pressure on peppered moths making it more likely for darker forms to survive. The carbonaria form became uncommon in peppered moth populations, and the phenomenon became known as industrial melanism. Since the Clean Air Act came into force in the UK in 1956, lichens have regrown and the lighter coloured moths have become more common again. And the peppered moth has become a textbook example of evolution by natural selection.

Science at work

The story of naturalists investigating this phenomenon is also a good window into how science operates. In the 1950’s scientists experimented by putting moths on trees and seeing if colour and contrast with tree trunks had an effect on a bird’s likelihood of finding and eating the moth. Part of the old maxim is to never work with animals, I imagine because you can’t tell them what to do. So often these scientists worked with dead moths, pinning or gluing them to tree trunks, and finding that moths camouflage against the trees was at work.

However these methods came under heavy criticism, and for a while peppered moths were knocked off their textbook pedestal. The main criticisms centered around scientists creating experimental situations which did not accurately reflect the real world. Dead moths can’t sense birds and fly away. And scientists had been pinning them to tree trunks (probably because it was convenient), when it was argued that peppered moths tended to hide on tree branches. 

Scientists responded to this criticism by designing experiments differently. The most comprehensive was conducted by Michael Majerus. Majerus examined trees and noted the resting positions of wild moths. Then using this information he released thousands of live moths over several years at densities reflecting a wild population. He kept them in ‘sleeves’ around resting locations until they settled at sunrise. Then he removed the sleeves and would return 4 hours later. The moths rarely flew away, so missing moths were presumed eaten. He also observed some of the moths through binoculars and recorded what they were eaten by, and found it was indeed birds doing the eating.

Read more about Majerus’ research – Royal Society: Biology Letters

Activity ideas

Tracking industrial melanism 

Discuss images of moth samples collected across several decades. Is the mix of colour forms the same in each one? Why might the increase and then decrease in burning coal have an impact on the colour of the moth population? Could you conduct and experiment to collect evidence to support your hypothesis? 

Model moths 

Make model moths with clay or dough and paint them light or dark patterns. Bring your moths outside and see what natural surfaces your moths can camouflage on. What would happen to your moth if the environment changed due to deforestation? What if one type of tree or plant in your environment died out and other became more common? What if there were no natural surfaces, only human made ones? 

Moths in unnatural habitats 

Think about the habitat of your classroom or home. Research UK moths. Which UK moths might be camouflaged in your classroom or home? Is camouflage enough for a moth to survive and reproduce? You could also draw and colour in your own new moth species which would be suited to your surroundings. 

Gather your own evidence 

Design an experiment to test the story of the peppered moth. How could you collect evidence that the colour of a moth and the colour of tree bark affects chances of surviving and reproducing?